An endangered plant species, Amorphophallus titanum takes up to ten years to cultivate in captivity. Dubbed the “corpse flower,” it’s one of the largest, most rancid smelling plants on the planet, and only blooms every few years. Growing public interest in these rare specimens, which reek of rotting flesh, has prompted botanical gardens and university greenhouses to broadcast their special blooms to audiences worldwide. Earlier this year, Josh Chesarek, founder of Simple Thought Productions, oversaw one such live stream for two corpse flowers at Rollins College in Florida. Josh sat down with us to talk about the project and his workflow, among other topics. Continue reading for highlights from our conversation.
How did you get involved in the project?
Rollins College Greenhouse Manager Alan Chryst obtained the college's first seedling in 2004, with only one blooming over a decade later. I’d worked with the Rollins team on streaming that event, as well as other projects across the college, so as they began preparations for two anticipated 2022 blooms, they reached out to our team about setting up a live stream workflow. Naturally, I was thrilled to take on such a unique project.
What differentiates this project from others?
It’s not every day as a video production pro that you’re asked to capture a live feed of a plant that grows upwards of six feet in under a week and unleashes a scent so rancid that it reminds you of roadkill roasting on a desert road at summer’s peak. I also like to problem solve, so the environmental conditions made it a fun challenge. We had to figure out the right gear to withstand incredibly hot, humid, and wet greenhouse conditions; AJA’s HELO H.264 streaming and recording device proved a champion in that challenging environment.
Describe the setup.
We connected a camera to the HELO providing audio and video over SDI, with HELO connected to Ethernet and a power source, and we streamed a 1080p feed out to YouTube for over 237 consecutive hours. Given the 100-degree temperature and damp greenhouse conditions, we covered the equipment in a large plastic bag sealed around the lens hood of the camera. I opted for HELO over other encoders, largely for its reliability and sturdy design.
During the previous bloom, we used other encoders, which would go offline randomly, and interrupt the stream, so I’d have to stop what I was doing and drive more than 30 minutes roundtrip to campus to unplug and plug in the encoders. This time around we had more than 10,000 viewers tune in without interruption, thanks in large part to the HELO. Once I set everything up on-site, I could access and control it remotely. Every morning, I logged into the HELO web UI to ensure everything was running smoothly and couldn’t believe that both the camera and HELO were running so solid. I kept expecting something to fail in the temperatures and humidity levels I was seeing, but neither the camera nor HELO skipped a beat, even when cooking for nine days in the heat. It was impressive to say the least.
What drew you to video production and streaming?
I’ve always had a passion for the craft, even though it’s not my primary job. I like the challenge of being able to figure out how to solve a problem in a consistent and reliable way with available resources. In this respect, I enjoy trying to replicate broadcast quality content production at a fraction of the cost. This passion led me to develop Simple Thought Productions, which is primarily a live production company.
Tell us more about Simple Thought Productions.
I started dabbling in video production 19 years ago, just as web streaming was becoming popular. I built out my own production workflow and crew and started working with local sports teams and city councils to document live events via video streams and recordings. Eventually this work resulted in the launch of Simple Thought Productions. Since then, we’ve taken on more clients, including EA Games and BASF. Our sweet spot is producing live, interactive event streams across multiple platforms, and we produce anywhere from 40-60 events a year on average. We also do a lot of on-the-ground event work for the City of Orlando and Division 2 Athletics, such as Sunshine State Conference coverage for NCAA basketball, soccer, and lacrosse.
What kind of demand are you seeing for UltraHD?
To the untrained eye, the differences between 1080p, and 4K are not easily distinguishable, and most live events today are streamed in 720p. That said, we’re seeing more interest in higher resolution production, especially in sports. Even if a match isn’t streamed in 4K, some clients are requesting 4K recordings for replay review, the ability to pan and scan, and more. Producing content in 4K from the get-go, even if delivering in HD, tends to yield a better picture quality regardless, so it’s the direction we’re moving. We can easily shoot in 4K, mix the footage with graphics and sound, and hand it over to HELO in 1080p60 for HD streaming.
What advice would you offer to aspiring video pros?
Take the time to research available gear and you won’t be disappointed. I can spend hours sweeping Twitter, YouTube, and Reddit for gear advice, recommendations, and reviews, and it always pays off. That’s how I found HELO. When possible, get out and talk to other professionals and vendors in person. Technology is imperfect, so you’re going to find bugs, but what matters most is how a vendor responds to that feedback, and that’s what I like about AJA. They listen, and work to improve the technology with future updates.